The Forum | Freedom of Expression

Faculty Leaders Meet at Fall Oases of Excellence Conference

October 15, 2019

In late September, distinguished faculty from across the country gathered together in Orem, Utah, at Utah Valley University for the fall 2019 Oases of Excellence conference. The 68 programs designated as Oases of Excellence by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) introduce students to the best of the foundational arts and sciences, protect free inquiry into a range of intellectual viewpoints, and prepare students for informed and engaged citizenship.

The morning began with a vibrant dialogue on the current state of higher education. Christine Basil of Belmont Abbey College, Gabriel Brahm of the Center for Academic and Intellectual Freedom at Northern Michigan University, and Robert Jackson of Great Hearts Academies addressed the crisis of on-campus loneliness and how professors can help build a student community. They also discussed opportunities for fostering the liberal arts in K-12 education. Students with an early liberal education will likely gravitate toward similar postsecondary programs, and private schools like Great Hearts Academies are committed to hiring teachers who have received a rigorous liberal arts education.  

David Corey, director of Baylor in Washington, delivered the keynote address, “Liberal Education: Its Conditions and Its Ends.”  He inspired a lively discussion with the conference participants about the core tenets of the liberal arts.

In the afternoon, Scott Paul of the Center for Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University and Emily Koons Jae of the Fund for Academic Renewal discussed methods for finding and approaching donors to support Oases programs. Erik Gross, communications associate at ACTA, conducted a workshop on strategies to improve social media presence and the quality of program websites. 

Throughout the day, participants were able to share their concerns about their particular campuses and seek out advice from thriving programs at other universities. Gregory McBrayer of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, Steven Frankel of the Stephen S. Smith Center at Xavier University, and Shilo Brooks of the Engineering Leadership Program at UC–Boulder all shared strategies for success from their experiences creating robust liberal arts programs on campus.

Dr. Brooks noted, “If it is true that the liberal arts are dying in universities, then the worst thing we can do is to sit around and lament. We need innovative and forward-thinking solutions to this problem that do not rely on traditional academic frameworks.” Oases of Excellence faculty conferences serve as a place where participants can find inspiration and creative direction for their individual programs.

ACTA’s Fund for Academic Renewal is privileged to partner with faculty leaders who care deeply about their students’ well-being and are committed to providing them with rigorous liberal arts instruction. The dedication and innovation of these professors is an encouraging sign for the future of higher education. We look forward to assembling our next Oases of Excellence Faculty Conference in the spring.

To view more photos, visit the Fund for Academic Renewal’s Facebook page.

Rebecca Richards is a program associate for ACTA’s Fund for Academic Renewal. 


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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